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Chapter 4: Profiling, Bodywrap, and Pop Art

 

At Arkham Asylum, just like anywhere on planet Earth, certain people annoy each other.  The mental health professionals take pains to keep these individuals separated whenever possible, particularly when one of them is Joker.  Once an inmate is released, of course, they are, by definition, safe to rejoin society.  That means they get to endure bureaucracy like everyone else.  

The final step in release processing was signing for their personal belongings, and the clerk did not care if Joker was in line behind Poison Ivy.  She didn’t care that Ivy hated Joker or that the air outside her window had begun smelling of lemons because Joker passed the time singing “100 bats chained to the wall.”  All the clerk cared about was that Pamela Isley examine each and every one of the personal articles that were taken from her when she was brought in, initial the inventory sheet, initial the pink copy, initial the receipt, sign on the dotted line, and then sign again on the little blue card indicating she had received her copy. 

The clerk furthermore did not care that this was a criminal waste of paper.

Joker cared.  He cared that Pammy’s declaration of principles about the waste of paper tied up the line and by the time he reached the front door—yep—he had missed the bus back to town. 

HAHAHAHAHAHA!  But so had she! And that meant fun times ahead.

“So PAMMY!  HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA  Looks like we’re hoofing it all the way back to Gotham.  Unless you want to share a cab.”

“You are festering pustule on the buttocks of Mother Earth.”

“So no cab-share?”

She ignored him. 

“Ooooh-Lemon.  The guys really go for that, don’t they.”

“No man can resist me.”

Joker raised an eyebrow.

“No man whose body has not been polluted with chemical toxins past the point where…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Point is, Pammy, you can get a ride back to town and I can’t.  You know, the ‘profiling’: green hair-white skin-keep driving.  So what do you say?  Let me ride with you, please, pretty please, pretty please with sunflower seeds.”

“Why would-”

“Why would you help me out when you hate my guts?  Because if you don’t, any cab that stops for you will be HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA-ECH-SPLAT and no ride for you.  Savvy?”

“Oh alright, but I’ll only take you over the bridge.  I will not have your foul being polluting the beauty of my park.”

“Oh, like I really want to tiptoe through the crabgrass.”

 

“Now Hugo, this is what we call a body wrap to detoxify your skin and fat cells before we get to the tanning booth.  It’s an herbal blend of alfalfa leaf, chickweed powder, yarrow, cornsilk, garlic powder, hawthorn berries and kelp…” 

Bruce grunted at the video feeds.  There had been no indiscretions to zap.  Hugo seemed to be going along with the program.  So far, at least.  But Bruce would continue to monitor, just in case Hugo decided to use the television show as a platform to air his Batman theory.

If he didn’t, if Hugo really had moved beyond his Batman obsession, that was certainly good news.  But Bruce was reluctant to believe it.  Tim said it was because he was allergic to optimism.  (Just the kind of thing he was used to hearing from Tim lately; that boy was getting more and more like Dick every day.) He did distrust the kind of naïve confidence certain associates in the League espoused, that cockeyed certainty that everything worked out for the best in this best of all possible worlds.  

Deluded romantics.  That’s what superpowers led to. 

Science, on the other hand, science was the superpower of ordinary men and women.  Men and women with working minds.  Men and women who could not rely on super strength, speed, or magic to survive, who turned instead to the world around them.  Observing the world around them—seeing what was, not what they wanted to be, that was the scientist’s way.

And for observing obsession, one couldn’t do better than Harley Quinn.

Harley’s insane fixation on the Joker had not diminished when they broke up as a couple.  He still drove her every thought and action.  Bruce wasn’t sure how Batman and Catwoman fit into the picture, but somehow they did.  The demented pixie was playing matchmaker.  And even though he had played along at the time, he fully intended to work out what she was up to and why.

He did play along at the time. 

He let Selina pull him in.  As always.  Damn.  It was dangerous, and he really shouldn’t have allowed it.  With Quinn watching.  It was no time to be playful.  Why did he always let her…

The thought was interrupted by an alert… Bruce paused the video of Hugo Strange getting his back waxed and transferred the alert to the workstation where he sat. 

“Now what,” he muttered, “cat clues pointing to a candlelit supper at d’Annunzio’s?”

But it was no crime in Gotham this time.  Bruce found himself looking at the surveillance cameras from, literally, his own back yard.  He cursed obscenely.  There was Harley Quinn at the north perimeter of the manor grounds, tripping the alpha alarm, then the beta, then the delta, then the delta-2s that Selina added—then the motion sensor in the bush.

Bruce rolled his eyes.  The bush sensor was put there for his neighbor’s dogs.  And Quinn tripped it.  He was watching the most blissfully incompetent trespasser in the 320-year history of Wayne Manor. 

 

Ivy longed for the quiet peace of her lair in Riverside Park.  It was smaller than her niche in Robinson Park, but it was quieter.  Robinson Park had too many people trudging through it.  People.  What a nuisance people were.  After a stint in Arkham, she liked to isolate herself from as many of the two-legged animals as possible and commune solely with her beloved plants.

This she would do as soon as she could be free of the park workers. 

Perhaps technically the landscapers were not as bad as other humans.  At least they spent their days caring for plantlife, even if they only did it for money.  But after a spell at Arkham followed by a cab ride with Joker, Ivy wanted only peace.  Plant peace.  People-free plant peace.

But that was never possible when returning to a park lair after any sort of absence, for always the human pests grew bold while she was away.  Always they had to be cut back and weeded out when she returned. 

This time there were three signs, a bench and a garbage can to be removed.  A simple spritz of the new landscape crew was sufficient to get that done.  But they were slow.  How she wished they would hurry up and finish so she could be alone with her babies.  Unfortunately, every time she tried to hurry them, they stopped altogether to give her their full attention.  They would revel in the sound of her voice, look at her longingly, and then dawdle even worse than before trying to maintain visual contact as they worked.

Perhaps a quick trip to the Iceberg was in order.  There was no people-free plant peace to be had there, but there would be ice-cold cosmopolitans to pass the time until her new lair was ready.

 

Walking to the front door to fetch the mail, Alfred reminded himself sharply that he was, after all, an employee at Wayne Manor.  If Master Bruce came into the butler’s pantry asking for the mail almost two hours before it was usually delivered, it was Alfred’s job to go check.  He did so with the air of one humoring his employer—right up until he opened the mailbox and saw two envelopes left there.

He handled them carefully, for they did not bear the usual postmarks of regular U.S. mail. 

“Begging your pardon, sir,” Alfred said calmly handing over the letters, “I recognize that it is not quite my place to advise an expert such as yourself in matters of this kind.  But the unusual delivery time and absence of a return address or—”

“Yes I know, Alfred,” Bruce answered crisply.  “I know who they’re from, I saw them being delivered…  Harley Quinn,” he said thoughtfully, examining the larger of the two envelopes.  Satisfied that it held no booby traps, he opened it with a swift stroke of the letter opener.  A slip of paper fluttered out with the words:

From a friend,
Thought you should know.

Bruce scowled and slid several thick sheets out of the envelope.  Photographs.

Alfred coughed. 

“If that will be all, sir, I have some, er, dusting to attend to.”

Bruce nodded. When Alfred was gone, Bruce massaged the bridge of his nose and looked again through the photos.  There they were:  Batman.  Catwoman.  Kissing.  Passionately.  Like the now-famous Gotham Post cover, except here it wasn’t Photoshop.  Here her costume was right.  Here it had really happened.  WHAT was Quinn up to?  Setting up Batman and Catwoman in order to send photos to Bruce Wayne? 

He remembered the second envelope.  In his haste, he took none of the precautions he had opening the first.  Fortunately there was no explosion or cloud of SmileX.  A far different kind of poison oozed from this envelope:

  Dear Bruce…  This is so difficult to say…  It’s not like we promised each other anything… always cherish our time together…

He knew these phrases.  The Dear John letter—the Dear John letter he’d written for OSWALD!  She… even for Harley, this was insane… she copied Oswald’s Dear John letter to send to Bruce Wayne? 

His wheels turned—a solution presented itself—and an unstable mix of rage and disbelief churned in his gut… as the thought solidified, the disbelief waned and the rage intensified: hooking up Catwoman with Batman to break up Selina and Bruce Wayne?  THAT is what Quinn was doing?!

Ever since Joker turned her to crime and insanity, Batman wondered if Harley Quinn was suicidal.  This seemed to settle it:  Just about the only thing deadlier, he would wager, than meddling in Batman’s private life would be messing with Selina’s. 

 

Edward Nigma hated admitting it, but facts were facts.  There was no such thing as an intelligent man with a hangover.  He might have been the smartest rogue in Gotham yesterday; he might be again tomorrow.  But right now his head hurt and that’s really all there was to it.

He sat staring at the wall in front of him as if he was still at Arkham and medicated out of his mind.

It was too much trouble to try and make coffee.  The sound of the grinder alone.  If only he had a Query… or an Echo… … …or Doris.  Doris refused to be a criminal sidekick, but she made wonderful coffee. 

He had had an idea too.  Roman something.  Days of the week or… numerals?  There was probably a bottle of aspirin somewhere. 

If he could find it. 

Which would mean getting up. 

 

“Howdie Miss Isley, nice to see you again.  The usual?”

“Thank you, Sly.”

“I’ll bring it to your regular table.”

“It’s fixed then?”

“Yes ma’am, just last week.  Got it all fixed up in time for your return.” 

Ivy smiled regally.  For one not enslaved by her pheromones, Sly really was a very thoughtful and attentive creature. Then her expression faded into a disapproving frown.

“Still using paper napkins, I see.  One day, I must do something about that.”

 

Bruce knocked at the door of Selina’s suite. 

“It’s open,” a strained voice panted from the exercise room in the back. She was working out again.

“I don’t care; I’m still knocking,” he answered grimly, “You’ve made it quite clear that interrupting the workout leads to claws, and you’ll want to save them for this.”

She paused midway through a backbend. 

“Oh?” 

Bruce was startled at the menace packed into the single word.  When they bantered on rooftops, her tone was more playful.  Since then, when they argued, even if she was really angry, she was seldom… dangerous.  

“What has the little tassel twit done now?” Selina asked with a calm slow-building fury. 

Bruce stared.  How did she know? 

“C’mon, hot stuff, let’s have it.  After that thing last night, Harry Connick Jr. and the domestic bubbly, she didn’t do that just to see the look on your face—although it was priceless, God knows.  There has to be a second act.  What’d she pull now?”

She seemed just hot enough that Bruce thought it wise to step back from the way he’d begun the conversation.  And he switched to Batman’s voice knowing that, although it unnerved most people, Selina found it sexy.

“Let’s just say I wouldn’t have been so reluctant to play along last night if I’d known you were breaking up with that dud Wayne.”

It worked.  The statement was just enigmatic enough.  The murderous look shifted into a puzzled one—temporarily.  The key to a temper like Catwoman’s, he had learned, was to give her time to adjust to whatever development was setting her off.

He gave a sad nod.  “Yep.  At least you tried to let him down easy with that goodbye letter.  It’s too bad the photos came at the same time, because after seeing what went on in that catlair, I doubt he’ll be in the mood to listen to any—”

He was interrupted by a familiar hiss.

“If you really don’t want me taking this out on you, start making sense.”

Bruce showed her the contents of his morning mail. 

“Selina, I knew you’d be upset by this, but we don’t have time to waste on temper.  The situation exists, we’ve got to knuckle down and deal with it.”

“Oh, agreed,” she said happily, “I’m going to deal by using her face as a scratching post.  What’s your plan?”

“Selina.”

“Yank that silly bell off the tassel and shove it up her—”

“Selina.”

“Don’t give me that Father Knows Best / tsk-tsk /talk the loony off the ledge tone—”

“Selina, please.”

“So FAR up her butt!”

Exasperated, he shot his hands out in a swift Ryotedori wrist grab, countering her expected Tenchinage response with a smooth turning lead that ended with her pinned firmly, back against his chest.

“Feel better getting that out of your system, Kitten?”

A hiss was the only answer, so he tightened his grip.

“Selina, there really isn’t time for this.”

She paused.  “I don’t see why not; is the clock ticking on something?”

“Joker released from Arkham two hours ago.”

He felt her body relax within the pin, like a deflated balloon.  “Shit.  So that’s what this is about.”

“Of course.  With Harley, it’s always about Joker, one way or another.  It took me a minute to work it out at first.  Way to make Puddin’ unhappy? Strike at his good buddy Brucie.”

She turned within his arms and looked at him, but not tenderly.

“Eww.”

“What?”

“We talked about that.”

“What?”

“No getting inside their heads.  It’s creepy.”

“It’s important to know how the enemy thinks.”

“It’s a turnoff.”

His lip twitched.  “One more reason to get him back in Arkham quickly.”

 

When Sly brought her drink, Ivy insisted he join her at her table… just for a few moments… to talk a bit…  get caught up.

She wasn’t used to this.  Cajoling. 

For his part, Sly was looking around uncomfortably.  He didn’t sit down with customers.  He would chat for hours with anyone who sat at the bar, but to sit with patrons, that was Mr. Cobblepot’s prerogative.

Of course…  Sly was running the place now. 

He sat.

 

They argued the whole way down to the cave. 

“I am not treading on your sacred right to go all batty on Joker matters—”

“I do wish you would drop that expression. It is not ‘going batty’ to prepare a—”

“Whatever.  Point is, Harley is screwing with ME, and I don’t let that pass, and I don’t let the boyfriend handle it—”

“Selina—”

“—AND I don’t stand quietly in the background while the—AAAIIIIEEEE!”

A scream such as had never been heard in the Batcave before echoed through the caverns, causing the bats to shriek, squawk and shudder several seconds after it ceased. 

“WHAT! WHAT IS IT?” Bruce yelled.

Selina just stood, wide-eyed, staring at the Workstation 3 monitors with a look of frozen horror.

After a moment, she raised a finger and half-pointed.  Bruce had already turned in the direction she was staring.  His eyes registered the horror just as Selina found strength to manage a hoarse whisper:

“Purple mannequin.”

On the screen, the FAB! decorator was showing Hugo Strange what they had made of his apartment in his absence.

“…this amazing artwork we found stashed away in the garage. Now this is clearly an important sculpture by one of Gotham’s most challenging artists.  A piece like that, you’ve got to show off.  You don’t want to hide this away, so see how we’ve made it the focal point of the room.”

“Oh god,” Bruce groaned.

There, in the center of Hugo Strange’s exquisitely redecorated living room, sat a contorted mannequin dressed in a Catwoman costume.

A sharp intake of breath and Selina recovered from the initial shock. 

“I take it Quinn is out of the basement,” Bruce observed dryly. 

Hostile green eyes glared at him.

“Did you know about this?” the tigress snarled.

Harley was indeed out of the basement—and Bruce thought it best to clarify that it was Hugo and not Batman that would be taking her place.

“I’ve seen the mannequin.  She wasn’t dressed that way at the time,” he answered.

Selina stormed off to the costume vault but Bruce lagged behind, pretending to make an adjustment at the workstation.  He too wanted to change into costume, but just this once he would wait and allow her to go first.  Batman’s survival instinct would never permit his telling Selina, but he considered the catsuit an improvement.  When he had seen Hugo’s mannequin in person, she wore a camisole, garter belt, silk stockings—and a Batman cowl. 

 

“That’s it!” Riddler proclaimed happily.  “The Roman Calendar, that was my grand idea. Using the Roman Calendar!”

His smile faded as he looked around the empty lair, realizing he was speaking aloud and there was no one to hear.

“Oh well,” he grumbled to the Scrabble tiles laid out on the kitchen table.  “If there’s no one to hear, there’s also no one to think I’m strange for talking to myself, is there?  The comforting paradox of living alone.  Now where was I?”

Yes, the calendar, that was it.  The Scrabble tiles would do well for clues, for each day was represented by a series of letters.  He hadn’t thought of that part last night!

“Aren’t I clever,” he smiled at the tiles.

“Now then, in the Roman Calendar there were specific days set aside to shop, to do business, to go to court, and to conduct various religious rites.  All of my crimes…”  he said, searching for a specific tile “…will take place on days that were designated dies nefasti, which meant no legal action could take place.  Ha, ha, ha.  Some irony, eh, Dark Knight!  And the dies nesfasti were indicated by the letter N, so where are the Ns, I’ll need a lot of those…”

 

“Miss Isley, are you okay?”

“Oh my, OOH, oh, ha, ha, my,” Poison Ivy gasped with her hand on her chest, “perfectly alright, Sly, thank you for your concern.”

“You were laughing like Mr. Joker!”

She sighed. 

“I know.  I apologize.  But it was funny.”

“I’ve never seen you laugh before, ma’am,” Sly said cautiously.

The slightest whiff of lemon tinged the air. 

“It is true, I do not often indulge in rocking laughter like some kind of slobbering hyena,” she said defensively, “but that does not mean I’m not capable…”

“No, of course not, ma’am,” Sly enthused quickly, protective of the customer’s goodwill and future tips, “I didn’t mean it like that, honest.  I think you have a very nice laugh.”

Ivy paused, looking at Sly curiously, as if he started speaking a foreign language she’d never heard before. 

“You do?”

“Yes, of course, Miss Isley. A very nice laugh.  And a pretty smile too. You should do that more often.”

The lemon tinge evaporated, replaced with the faintest hint of orange.

 

“Now Hugo, you’re looking good, your apartment looks good, you know how to make the crème brulée for the special dessert when you bring your date back here at the end of the evening.  That just leaves the date itself. So we thought we would take you out to this Iceberg Lounge for a dry run, go over the menu, the wines, and work out some special touches for you to make sure this is an unforgettable evening.”

To be continued...

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